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Are the horror stories about car rental in Iceland true?

Strictly speaking you are not allowed to drive in this condition according to the small print of many local car rental companies. PIC Tom Olliver

Strictly speaking you are not allowed to drive in this condition according to the small print of many local car rental companies. PIC Tom Olliver

Quite a lot of discussions on the worldwide web regarding car rental agencies in Iceland and many of the stories are not very flattering to locals. Team Total Iceland has received a question about car rental in Iceland asking if the stories about the companies cheating people out of their money is true or not.

The old adage; where there is smoke there is fire holds true in this case. Had the car rental agencies offered real and friendly service in the past there would most likely not be so many horror stories out there. Then again, service is not something the average Icelander is born with while greed is ingrained in many.

Total Iceland has before recommended hiring a car from one of the lesser known local companies. Their prices are more often than not considerably lower than the big name agencies and in some cases they don´t even offer brand new cars all the time. In other words, the older the car the less it is buy insurance and extra insurance and windshield insurance and ash insurance and sand insurance and etc….

What next? Snow insurance?

A car rental company offering ash and sand protection insurance four years ago would have been ridiculed but now everyone does it. But sand has been blowing in Iceland from the beginning of time and neither are ash particles a particularly new phenomena on this volcanic island. What next? Snow insurance?

In any case, you are offered this extra insurance if you are driving the Westfjords where neither sand- nor ash storms happen.

The small print on webpages of many a car rental agencies here tell of “considerable” damage from driving through sand- og ash storms that form especially in the South of Iceland. This is untrue. It might get dirty and yes, even a small scratch too but “considerable” damage to a car is pretty serious condition.

Gravel protection sounds reasonable for a visitor. After all, roads in Iceland are horrible all over and many of those are simple gravel roads. But locals have been driving here for decades and you may look well and hard before you see many cars of the common man here dented or scratched.

This said, there is always the possibility of a broken front window from flying gravel and on average it is better to be safe than sorry.

Another insurance to skip is the theft protection in our opinion. Perhaps two or three cars are lifted in Iceland every week outside of the Reykjavik area. Few dare steal a car elsewhere since it will be easily spotted. But then again this insurance is not very expensive.

Johan is pissed and regretting visiting Iceland in wintertime

27 thoughts on “Are the horror stories about car rental in Iceland true?

  1. Hi there,

    I have recently had some real trouble with Geysir Car Rental in Iceland.

    When booking the car I was offered a SCDW (CDW was already included) and also Gravel Protection. I opted for Gravel Protection as their website advised it and it didn’t cost much more.

    When I picked up the car I was give only two pieces of advice: Do not smoke in the car, and do not drive off road. I abided by both of these rules.

    One day we drove from Flúðir (where we were staying) to visit Þjóðveldisbærinn on route 32. During this drive we were hit with very strong winds which were picking up gravel and hitting the car, however there was no shelter anywhere so we continued to our destination, and then drove back again. We were concerned about the car but we knew we had Gravel Protection so we believed that it would cover any damage that this gravel may have caused.

    We were wrong. When we returned our car to Geysir on April 16th we were told that this damage was called “sandblasting” (caused by sand and ash rather than gravel) and that it was uninsurable by any insurance company in Iceland so we would have to pay for it. I pointed out that the damage was clearly caused by gravel as the surface of the paint remained glossy, but with chips in it, whereas from sandblasting you would expect a completely matted surface.

    The employee told us that we would have to pay the maximum possible price for the repairs which turned out to be an astonishing €4500! Of course I contested this and asked what would happen if I refused to pay – I was told that the police would be called. I had a plane to catch and could not afford to incur any further costs. The employee said that my travel insurance should cover it, so I called my travel insurance company. They told me that it is very rare for a travel insurance policy to cover a rental vehicle as usually the car is covered by the insurance purchased with the rental car through the rental company…

    I could not afford this on my own (I am a recent graduate), so I handed over all of my cards to the employee, he took everything he could from my bank accounts (one card bounced, two completely maxed out by him – a total of €1400), that was everything I had, my brother had nothing to offer except ISK to the sum of €200. So I called my girlfriend and my other brother and his girlfriend, between us we only just managed it. All left completely broke.
    The employee said that he would get an estimate from the paint shop the following day and that we would almost certainly receive a partial refund as the cost of repair would not be that much…
    …Two days later, back in England, I received an email from Geysir telling me that the paint shop estimate was in fact €6402!!! Of course I refused to pay any more than the initial €4500 that we were promised would be the maximum cost.

    Since then I have been researching and have discovered that in fact most car rental companies in Iceland DO have cover for Sand and Ash damage, available as an optional damage waiver, or even included in the Gravel Protection… And since then I have also discovered (on Geysir’s Facebook page) an album of photographs of a car damaged by sand and ash – the damage in Geysir’s photos clearly show that the car’s paint is no longer glossy and is completely matt. COMPLETELY different from the damage my car sustained! So it appears I have been lied to twice and that the damage to my car was in fact Gravel damage, which I was protected for! I’ve told this to Geysir and they won’t respond to me.

    I’ve contacted the European Consumer Centre, The Icelandic Consumer Association, my credit card company, the Icelandic tourist board, and no one is replying to my emails. I then contacted The Times newspaper, they were interested and are running an article this Saturday (1st June) about the pitfalls of car rental in foreign countries. They have contacted Geysir about this article and to ask some questions about it and they of course instantly replied! Yet not to me!

    The Times: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/money/consumeraffairs/article3779762.ece


    • Hi. This is unbelievable to say the least. You are quite correct that there is a massive difference between sandblasting and normal gravel wear and tear and this is obvious to everyone with half a mind.

      You did right in contancting the consumer agency and team Total Iceland wishes you luck in this. However, we are very much wondering what the police could have done and if that might have been the course to take. Then Geysir would have to prove the damage and if true what you say could not have done so.

      In any case, you are sadly not the only one with rage against Geysir car rental.

    • hi,
      i have the same situation ….
      i passed sandstorm and rent-car company wants from me a lot of money for repair the damages.
      they said 10 cars was sandblasted only in dollar-trifity company during last sandstorm on 15.09.2013 and about 100 cars total in Iceland.
      pls advise what shall i do ?